The fear I hear most often expressed about climate change is that of losing hope. Indeed, so much confronts us with the enormity, the frightening prospects of failure, frustration of living in a world subject to politicians and industries who ignore, deny, and play tricks to upend climate efforts. The recent hype against induction cooking by the natural gas industry is one example. A bigger frustration, especially for those not wishing our money to contribute to destruction, is the anti-ESG (environmental, social, and governance) backlash, politicians introducing and, worse, enacting, bans on financial institutions that see pro-environmental investment as beneficial to their shareholders.
Yes, such conflicts (not to mention other conflicts like Russia’s pointless attack on Ukraine and the ongoing culture wars against trans people and parents who simply want their children to be educated safely) are discouraging, but their ferocity may just indicate we’re getting enough attention to be a threat to nay-sayers, since “first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” (Gandhi often gets credit for this version of the saying).
But on the other hand, a metaphor in this recent Throughline episode called “When Things Fall Apart” is worth examining: which wolf inside us do we want to feed? The media make their money primarily by drawing attention to unwelcome news. And often disasters befall us swiftly (think of a wind storm hurling down a tree), while triumphs evolve at the speed of trees growing. We have to pay attention to see them. What we pay attention to, we feed.
So here’s what I choose to attend to:
- Members of the natural world we don’t think have roles to play in reducing carbon actually do, such as salt marshes, mangroves, and great blue whales.
- Researchers’ use of industry shareholder reports to find out how much pollution to attribute to which specific corporations have made it easier to sue them for climate damages, as Puerto Rico is doing now over hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.
- Opportunities multiply to make our own lives environmentally lighter–who knew Covid would enable less flying and more Zooming, for instance?
- Such opportunities allow us to keep in closer contact with our allies without spreading contrails across the sky. I spoke for an hour and a half this week, for instance, with my partner in tree-planting in Kisumu, Kenya, Bishop Tom Ochuka of the Africa Inland Church. They are in the process of increasing their tree production from 10,000 seedlings a year to 100,000.
- And the very fact that so many people are making enormous research strides, growing the ideas and developing the technologies we need, and spreading the word is in itself good news. Even the reporting of setbacks shows that someone else cares enough to talk about it.
A new website called Not Too Late, hosted by climate encouragers Rebecca Solnit and Thelma Young Lutunatabua, is gathering the good news. Solnit’s “Ten Ways to Confront the Climate Crisis without Losing Hope” points out that experts are more hopeful than people who are less informed, who often use “it’s too late” as an excuse to do nothing. She councils constructive use of the imagination to see the new, vibrant world we are on the verge of creating.
Maintaining hope is a decision to pay attention to what is really happening, to mourn–not ignore–what we fear losing, and to welcome, even if from some distance, the spiritual and societal richness we may yet gain. It’s also a decision to do one thing, then another, and another, to encourage environmental healing, both in our words and in our deeds.